Saturday, December 08, 2007

2 this week 

Khoya Khoya Chand

Sudhir Mishra’s Khoya Khoya Chand is beautiful to look at—the opulent sets, lovely costumes, the art deco studios, the glamorous women and crafty men who created show business in the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties.

That period is still considered a Golden Age of Hindi cinema, and a film about cinema of those times could only excite the film buff. The effect, however, is that of a wax museum— the look is close-to-life, but they are all mannequins after all.

A lot of what Khoya Khoya Chand is saying was already said by Guru Dutt in Kaagaz Ke Phool—and that one still has the power to move the viewer to tears; while Mishra’s tribute to the 50s often draws sighs of exasperation, and the question, “What the hell’s going on?”

An arrogant writer hero Zafar (Shiney Ahuja), whose problems with his decadent father dominate his life; the stoic heroine Nikhat (Soha Ali Khan), who has no great problem with the casting couch, as long as it gets her stardom; the tantrum-throwing diva Ratanbala (Sonya Jehan), the manipulative superstar Prem Kumar (Rajat Kapoor), the opportunistic producer Khosa (Saurabh Shukla), the sharp assistant director Shyamol (Vinay Pathak)-- are amalgamated portraits of real-life people we may have heard or read about in old fanzines, but they are not able to draw the viewer into their messy lives and loves as they go off in the pursuit of success. Once the period and ambience is recreated, there has to be a plot to knit the various incidents together.

Zafar and Nikhat’s struggle is inane, their romance superficial— and supposedly bad guys, don’t even come off as all that wicked. Prem Kumar, for all his debauchery, is a loyal lover and friend, quite unlike the real-life characters he is based on. He not only forgives Zafar’s treachery in stealing his mistress away, he helps when Zafar needs it. Nikhat is no babe-in-the-woods, but painting her as a victim of greedy parents and later a debilitating illness, takes away from the complexity of her character as a woman torn between love and ambition.

There are a few scenes that stay in memory—like Nikhat throwing stones at the window of the producer who first exploited her, or the otherwise self-obsessed Ratanbala, supporting Zafar and his obviously self-indulgent film—but there’s a lot of artifice too. Some of it, like Nikhat’s pathos-filled downfall is tough to endure.

Shiney Ahuja overacts, but he’s passable. The incredible bit of miscasting is Soha Ali Khan, who, as hard she tries is just not equal to the part; and Rajat Kapoor, who still manages to make the best of his role, awful wig and all. The presence of some characters, like the hanger-on (Sushmita Mukherjee) trying out Mae West lines, and an omni-present Bengali director is simply baffling. A surprisingly convincing performance comes from Sonya Jehan, who also has the ada of a woman who belonged to that era.

Great visuals, a fabulous title track, some good dialogue, and maybe a very, very tiny window into the fascinating fifties. Not enough…

Dus Kahaniyaan

There is nothing novel or experimental about it—a collection of ten stories making up the length of a feature film; it’s worth the effort, if the stories are interesting. Unfortunately, that can’t be said about the Sanjay Gupta produced Dus Kahaniyan.

There is no common theme or even some kind of unifying idea—except, if one pushed it—that sexual transgressions of any kind are punishable… sometimes by death.

So realizes the man (Manoj Bajpai) who rapes a bar dancer (Dia Mirza) in a rage and suffers (Sanjay Gupta’s Zahir ); the woman (Amrita Singh) who runs off for a secret tryst with an old lover and her daughter (Minissha Lamba) suffers (Meghna Gulzar’s Pooranmashi); or the dude on the beach (Dino Morea), who lusts after a strange bikini woman (Tareena Patel) and well, suffers (Apoorva Lakhia’s Sex on the Beach);

The unfaithful wife (Mandira Bedi) finds her trick to deceive her husband (Arbaz Khan) backfiring on her (Sanjay Gupta’s Matrimony). And if you wander over the highway stoned out your mind, what do you expect but violence (Hansal Mehta’s High on the Highway)

The style of the story veers from trashy horror (Sex on the Beach) to the kind of mushy tripe found on internet forwards (Gupta’s Gubbare and Jasmeet Dodhi’s Lovedale); from Mumbai gangland in which two bhais (Sanjay Dutt- Suniel Shetty) talk supari and loyalty (Gupta and Mehta’s Rise and Fall), suddenly, to Punjabi rural (Pooranmashi).

The sanctimoniousness seeps into the two stories that talk of communal harmony (Sanjay Gupta’s Strangers in the Night) in which a woman (Neha Dhupia) grimly tells her sneering husband (Mahesh Manjrekar) of the time she used the lure of sex for a good cause, and, the funniest of the lot, Rice Plate (Rohit Roy), in which a fussy South Indian Brahmin woman (Shabana Azmi) is taught a lesson in generosity by a Muslim (Naseeruddin Shah) she has just derided.

The technicians have worked hard, the film looks stylish. Some of the actors in the crowd shine – Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah (capable of walking away with a film without uttering a full sentence), Nana Patekar, ruminating on love (Gubbare), Amrita Singh as the hapless mother. But the writing and direction leaves much to be desired. Doesn’t say much for the ten-some, if newbie Rohit Roy beats the other brat packers--substance (even if it is borrowed) invariably rises above style.


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